New drive

Uber CEO pledges ‘total reset’ in Germany

Innovationskonferenz DLD in München
Praying for better luck this time round. Source: DPA

Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of ride-hailing service Uber, said the company had made mistakes in Germany, where it has faced legal battles, and planned a fresh start here.

“Our strategy on Germany is a total reset,” he said on stage at DLD Munich, an annual conference of tech elites from Europe and Silicon Valley. It was his first public appearance in Europe since taking over the top job from Uber founder Travis Kalanick last September.

Uber, he said, was working together with cities, authorities and taxi companies in Germany. Asked whether he thought the country was over-regulated, he was diplomatically evasive, but he did say some rules were no longer up to date.

He declined to reveal which German cities Uber plans to focus on. The company became embroiled in disputes with taxi associations and city regulators when it first entered Germany, leading a court to outlaw its services in 2014. It now offers rides with licensed taxi drivers in Berlin and Munich but is only a small player in Germany’s taxi market.

Germany for Uber is a market with enormous promise that hasn’t been realized, Mr. Khosrowshahi said, acknowledging that the company made many mistakes in the past. While he was speaking, taxi drivers were demonstrating against Uber outside the building. The company has come under intense pressure from traditional taxi drivers and regulators across Europe. The charge is always the same: unfair competition and circumventing licensing rules.

Innovationskonferenz DLD in München
Can sharing become more caring? Source: DPA

He said his company was focusing on “going from growth-at-all-costs to responsible growth” — but added that he disliked the description of himself as an “anti-Travis.”

He has promised to overhaul what was criticized as a toxic corporate culture which led to fights with regulators, a string of scandals including sexual harassment allegations and aggressive strategies to beat competitors, culminating in the dismissal of Mr. Kalanick.

“Business is surprisingly good, (taking account of) everything that the company went through,” said Mr. Khosrowshahi. “The part of the business that is not going particularly well is the profitability part,” he added with a grin.

Uber last year arranged 4 billion rides last year. The group now operates in 78 countries and almost 600 cities. But it made a $1.46-billion loss in the third quarter, after a loss of $1.06 billion in the previous quarter.

It plans to go public in 2019. Mr. Khosrowshahi didn’t venture a forecast for when he expects Uber to make a profit.

Since he took over, Uber has suspended its unlicensed service UberPOP in Norway and suffered a blow when London stripped it off its operating license, deeming it unfit to run a taxi service. However, its drivers can continue to operate in London while it pursues an appeal, which could take years. This followed the suspension of UberPOP in several European capitals, including Paris and Brussels.

Israel banned Uber in November due to insurance issues.

Johannes Steger is a Handelsblatt correspondent covering companies and markets. To contact the author: steger@handelsblattgroup.com

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